By Amy McCullough
Prior to the creation of Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP) in 1996, the center of Mississippi’s capitol city averaged 458 crime incidents annually, the streets were littered, Smith Park was unusable and downtown was an 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. office park.
Now the area boasts 309 occupied apartments, a revitalized King Edward Hotel, a business incubator, an additional 24-hour security presence, drastically lower crime rate, clean streets, progressing Farish Street Entertainment District and many other improvement projects.
DJP is made possible by the authorization of its business improvement district (BID), a defined area within which businesses pay an additional tax to fund improvements within the district’s boundaries. Downtown Jackson’s BID – the only one in Mississippi – comes up for a reauthorization vote every five years. On Aug. 16 Jackson’s business community will decide whether DJP will operate for another five years.
There are more than 1,000 BIDs nationwide, and cities like New Orleans, Chattanooga, Little Rock and Nashville have had them since the 1970s.
DJP President Ben Allen said public-private partnerships are crucial to urban revitalization efforts.
“What we’re doing is not new. In fact, we’re one of the last major cities to have a business improvement district. New Orleans’ formed in ’74. Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Chattanooga and Memphis formed (BIDs) in the ‘70s. We weren’t formed until 1996. The reason BIDs were formed is because cities started collapsing across the country. Business owners looked at all these decaying assets and said, ‘The city can’t fix this. What can we do to fix ourselves?’ So they started forming business improvement districts to tax themselves to fix stuff,” Allen said.
DJP strives to be the go-to organization for downtown activity. Whether a developer is interested in a multi-million renovation or a restaurant wants a permit for a bench on a city sidewalk, DJP is there to help navigate the waters of bureaucracy.
“Downtown Jackson Partners tries to be that one-stop shop for all things downtown while providing supplemental city services like cleaning and safety. We provide assistance to event organizers and market information for prospective developers. DJP also helps developers navigate through the bureaucracy of local government and identifies local, state and federal incentives that can be helpful to their projects,” said John Gomez, associate DJP director.
DJP was originally Capital Center Inc. and focused only on cleanliness and safety. In 2001, it transitioned into DJP, an economic development organization with a focus on residential development.
More than 98 percent of DJP’s budget – which is $1,043,613 for the current fiscal year – comes from taxes assessed on businesses within its district.
A 70-percent approval vote from district business owners is required. The tax that makes DJP possible is 10 cents per square foot, which includes square footage of the lot plus square footage within building improvements on the property. The business district comprises a little over 10 million square feet. About 61 percent of downtown Jackson buildings within the DJP district are occupied by non-taxable entities, such as state, federal and local municipalities as well as churches. Fees are collected by the county tax collector and given to city of Jackson, which passes it on to DJP.
In 2001, DJP was reauthorized with more than 80 percent of the business vote, and in 2006, they received an approval vote of approximately 73 percent. Allen believes the 2006 number is not representative of the feeling of the business community. According to the data, many businesses just did not vote, he said, and no vote equals a “no” vote.
Getting the out-of-state vote
DJP is concerned that some out-of-town owners of downtown Jackson business buildings don’t understand the value of the business district and will only look at the bottom line when voting. Downtown’s largest buildings — the Regions Plaza complex, the Landmark Center that houses AT&T and the Marriott – are all owned by out-of-state groups.
“Sometimes they’re just looking at a spread sheet and thinking about meeting their numbers. That’s kind of difficult because you don’t have that personal connection with the property owners who remember how bad it was before,” Gomez said.
Allen believes they will get the needed votes and said the group will be vigilant this year in reminding businesses to mail their ballots to the city clerk.
Companies like Parkway Properties, a publicly traded company based in downtown Jackson, are enthusiastic about keeping DJP. Parkway owns 15 percent of the business properties within the BID.
Company senior vice president John Barton said Parkway is happy to pay its share of BID taxes because DJP is “imperative in what we do every day. DJP ensures that there’s a good, cohesive voice from downtown businesses and serves as the advocate. We work very closely with them to further initiatives like the two-way Capitol Street initiative and a lot of good initiatives that make downtown more business-, citizen- and pedestrian-friendly. I could not imagine downtown without them.”
Downtown Jackson Partners Activity
• King Edward Hotel – Assisted with design, feasibility studies; kept old building from being razed
• Standard Life – Solicited, reviewed proposals
• Farish Street Entertainment District – Assisted with zoning, infrastructure, funding, developer recruitment
• Capitol Street Renaissance – Partnered with entities to get grants for progressing two-way street project
• Old Capitol Green – Issued RFP; assisted with zoning, developer selection for planned $1.4 billion neighborhood development
• Security presence – Day time Ambassadors; night time Securitas detail
• Authenticity fundraiser – 2009 event raised more than $106,000 for Jackson Police Academy renovation
• Venture Incubator – Opened in April 2011; currently assisting four startups and providing low-cost consulting to others
Note: List is not comprehensive. Source: Downtown Jackson Partners.
Downtown Jackson Crime Statistics
Ave. No. Criminal Incidences per Year
Prior – 1996: 458
1996 – 2000: 280
2001 – 2005: 93
2006 – 2007: 135
2007 – 2008: 94
Source: Wackenhut Corp service funded by Downtown Jackson Partners. Note: DJP stopped providing 24-hour armed security in 2008, when it implemented its Ambassadors program.